When we speak sometimes we draw out certain sounds for emphasis. We also see this technique in song, for both emphasis as well as expanding the meter to make the words fit a certain rhythm.

One way I have seen done, and I don't want to use, is simply a repetition of the vowel in question. Like so:

This example is waaaaaaay oversimplified.

The above example looks ugly. There's no standard on how many repetitions to use. But it does do what I want. It holds the note. It emphasizes the word.

Is there a form of punctuation we can use denote this?

  • Is this musical theater or opera? Because otherwise I'm not seeing how you get dialogue and lyrics at the same time. If you're writing actual lyrics you absolutely would spell out exactly which syllable goes with each musical note (or notate it directly if there is no music yet).
    – Cyn
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 18:46
  • @Cyn those two tags aren't related. They are just the main two use cases.
    – Summer
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 19:10
  • But they would lead to two completely different and unrelated answers. Your question is clearly about speech, not singing.
    – Cyn
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 19:26
  • @Cyn you might be right. It might have been a mistakes to lump then together. But I was thinking about dialogue and songwriting when I wrote the question.
    – Summer
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 19:39
  • Dialogue and songwriting is a perfectly valid question. It's just not this question.
    – Cyn
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 19:42

5 Answers 5


I don't believe there is any punctuation to accomplish what you want. I have seen it done as you have done it, but IMO this is effective but something that should be used very rarely; it gets tiring for the reader quickly (e.g. if you try to make this part of a character's accent). And because in English we may pronounce doubled vowels differently than single vowels; it doesn't apply to all vowels.

For example, the words "of" and "ooof" are read differently. If you wanted to draw out the word "of" you would write "uhhhhhhhv". (Not "ooooooof" or "uhhhhhhhf").

And in your example of "waaaaaaay", you cannot dispense with the final "y", because "waaaaaaa" would be read as a cry from a baby.

As for how many letters to use, both you and I instinctively used seven repetitions.

In general what you are aiming for is a phonetic spelling of an uttered sound. The only "punctuation" I know that accomplishes that is the rules and symbols of pronunciation used in dictionaries; but I don't know anybody that knows all those by heart, and it certainly wouldn't do 99% of readers any good.


Your example doesn't look ugly, it's just something that ought to be saved for dialogue. I wouldn't use it in non-fiction, for example.

Another method is to italicize the word.

This example is way oversimplified.

Adding emphasis with italics can mean to say it slightly louder or clearer or even pause for the briefest of periods (too long for a comma or dash) before saying it. But the most common form of emphasis here would be to elongate the word.

This works very well for an example that is a single syllable where only the vowel can be elongated. The only way it could go is "waaaaay." For a different word, let's say "kissy," as in "kissy face," you wouldn't know if kissy was supposed to be said "kiiiiiiiissy" or "kisssssssssy" or "kisseeeeeeeeee." It may not matter though, as each reader can imagine it their own way.

If italics works in general but doesn't imply a long enough elongation, you can add that to your narration. Though that's often more awkward than it's worth.

So, is there punctuation that can indicate elongation? No. Not any that works for regular fiction anyway.

If describing it isn't the right approach, then formatting is your friend. Italics if that works. Or add in those extra letters, with spelling changes as needed.


Another approach, from music: perhaps the Repeat Sign from music can be an inspiration https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repeat_sign

My transcribed knitting patterns look like this:

Sl1, k1, YO, k1, |: k1, YO, S2kPO :| k1, YO, k2

Similarly, I could see someone writing


especially if the repeat sign were done in a lighter line-weight font, to just indicate the repetition.

Since it's almost always a single letter being exaggerated, maybe instead of surrounding it, it could be like a superscript?


Perhaps other musical superscript notation may be useful? I'd love to add the rising or falling tones. There's the long ok that means questioning, or excitement?


(I went here to get the code for the notes: https://unicode-table.com/en/search/?q=note -- use the one starting with ampersand (&) and include the semicolon.)

  • This use of |: k2 p3 :| is NOT a normal knitting convention -- they normally put asterisks and say "repeat from asterisk until X stitches from end." It's just an example of me "stealing" from music notation. Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 13:51

Ah yes, IPA! International Phonetic Alphabet -- I had a drama teacher who had us learn to read it, (and I used to use a bastardized version of it for keeping notes), but she claimed that it could be used to represent ANY accent and emphasis. (In our basic level, not so much.)

But according to Wikipedia:

Among the symbols of the IPA, 107 letters represent consonants and vowels, 31 diacritics are used to modify these, and 19 additional signs indicate suprasegmental qualities such as length, tone, stress, and intonation

Skip down the page to "Suprasegmentals" -- but I think they're just distinguishing regular "long" vowels from short ones, like the "a" in "grape" vs "gap."

  • 2
    That is not what "long" means in phonetics. The a in grape is a different vowel than the one in gap: phonetically, they're [grep] and [gɛp] (at least in my accent, expressed in IPA). "Long" and "short" are used to explain why in English one letter can be used to represent multiple different vowel sounds. When someone using phonetics says a vowel is long, they mean exactly that; the sound of the vowel is exactly the same, but held longer. In Māori, manu means "bird", but mānu is "to float". Roughly, "maw-new" versus "mawww-new". Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 16:37

I've seen dashes used for this ("Ye-s"), but I wouldn't really recommend it. For readability, using repeated vowels sounds like the better, safer option. There's no need for the reader to guess what the repeated vowel means (was the word interrupted, or was the vowel elongated?) and you have the option of stretching out the word to be as long as you need (waay vs. waaaaaaay).

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